Thursday, September 12, 2013


(This is the short version of the Greek legend.  For the longer version, see Get Ready for the Huge, Fall Sky Saga posted 10/13/11 on this blog)

Cassiopeia was thought to be the Queen of Ethiopia (or the kingdom around Northeast Africa). She had a bad habit of bragging about her beauty. She believed that she was the most beautiful woman in the whole world - the most beautiful woman who ever lived - and the most beautiful woman that would ever live. And she told people these views about every twenty seconds. Like if you visited the palace and rung the doorbell, Cassiopeia would answer and sing-song, “Come on in, I’m so beautiful. Come in, I’m beautiful…” And if you’re with her at the dinner table she’d ask politely, “Can you please pass the salt? I’m beautiful over here.” Her subjects grew weary of this but what could they do? After all, she was the Queen.

One day, the Queen went too far. She proclaimed that she was more beautiful than all the mermaids in the sea, put together... Now this is no big deal to you and me, but to the god of the seas, Poseidon, this was the ultimate outrage. "My mermaids are more beautiful than that ugly old hag," his trident cleaner overheard him say. So Poseidon punished this boastful Queen by placing her up in the sky to sit on her throne. 

Wait a second, that sounds like a great honor! 

The trick Poseidon played was that he placed her near the Pole Star.  As the night rolls on, the stars move slowly around Polaris.  Poor Cassiopeia makes this circle too and spends half the night upside-down, clinging to that throne for dear life.  And so here is the punishment - her ultimate hell - can you be upside-down and beautiful at the same time? 

Cassiopeia is one of the easiest constellations to recognize in the sky.  You can find her 5 moderately-bright stars making an "M" shape in the northern sky after sunset.  I know this looks nothing like a Queen sitting on her throne, but I usually think of these 5 stars as her crown.  Since one of the stars is a little off line, I always think her crown must be bent from when she hits her head on the ground every time she circles Polaris.